Sunday, May 20, 2007

Turkey fieldwork notes: Kuru mass grave

Kurdistan/Turkey fieldwork notes extracts

Having gone back to Istanbul, met up with friends (one of whom I hadn't seen for nearly two years) and done my laundry, I headed to Mardin. This post came after I tried to visit the mass grave in Kuru/Xirabêbaba.

At 11pm on the 7th of May 2007, I noted that:
I did the same thing I did last weekend, staying up Sunday night, this time working up some of the little material I got from my first week of site visits in northern Kurdistan/south-eastern Turkey.

Thankfully, I managed a couple of power naps on the trams and trains on the way to the airport and a good couple of hours on the flight down to Mardin. As I was waiting, I'd started talking to someone from Mardin, whose sister turned out to be an archaeologist (based in Ankara). He was picked up from the airport by a friend driving a dolmuş, who took me too. We talked about my still-unfixed plans and, when they saw a bus that was going to Nusaybın, they hailed it at its next stop so it would take me.

Arriving at the bus station, I had a cup of tea and a sit down, then went to see about visiting the village that has three names [actually, two], each with more than one spelling and pronunciation, Dara, Koru/Kuru and Xirabêbaba ("Hchirabaybaba" or "Hchirabaybani"). [Dara may have been the home village of the victims buried in Kuru.]

Half-a-dozen locals who worked at the station were trying to work out if the place existed, if it did if it were the same as the one I meant and if it were, if it were also the one(s) they'd heard of.

I refused the "generous" offer of a 40YTL ($32, £16) taxi ride [I just realised I got (even more) ripped off (than I expected) when I did go to Kuru] and the would-be chauffeur, who was not a taxi driver but someone who worked in one of the offices there, relented to the others' demands and took me to the municipality.

The municipality staff I met at the gates were very friendly and we chatted and made quick work of a small bag of pistachios I'd brought....

We'd established what I was doing and the impossibility of visiting Kuru/Xirabêbaba/Dara (as it was now under military control) before we'd finished the pistachios....

The first denial [found in the media] - that it was a Roman family burial, rather than a twentieth-century mass grave - was surpassed by the suggestion that when the archaeologists returned to the site to find it destroyed, natural processes had covered it [the supposedly solely Roman grave, that is].... [Talking to locals later,]I tried to explain that I couldn't do much about it in my work and had just come to see what I could see....

At the end [of a cup of tea with locals, discussing my work on archaeologists' responsibilities], he [one] said that 'the most important thing archaeologists can do now is explain that Hasankeyf cannot be moved; if we say it, it sounds political, but if you say it, it's neutral'.

With that, I made my way back to Mardin, showered, ate and wandered for a while, then wrote up some notes.

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